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A Ride On The Wild Side

A Ride On The Wild Side

by March 15, 2017 0 comments

We said goodbye to a lot of famous people in 2016, and one of them is our own local boating celebrity. Chris Conroy was a pioneer boat media personality who produced and starred in his own TV show, Chris Conroy’s Wonderful World of Boats. The show, based on the Gold Coast and produced in Brisbane studios, ran for over 23 years, creating an impressive 700 episodes.

 

With a dedicated viewing audience of six million, the show was aired weekly by more than 20 commercial TV stations around Australia and many community stations. The show placed the spotlight directly on Australian boat manufacturers, and many of those based in South East Queensland.

 

Boating, TV and love life

 

Chris was involved in boating from an early age, as his father Ted owned all kinds of boats over a 50-year period. Chris built an uncanny knowledge of boats, their engines, and the sea. In his early teens, he worked in the firbreglass industry. Over the course of 20 years, he learned about designing and building boats. He then went on to be a school teacher, lecturer, entertainer, and company technical representative before beginning a career in television.

 

He was remarkable in the limelight and behind the scenes – from pre-production all the way to post-production. Chris independently produced the show, which first aired in 1979. He dreamed up the weekly show’s structure. He researched and scripted each episode, and also starred as the host-interviewer, as well as doing much of the filming himself. In post-production, he undertook the editing, and provided the voice-overs, live and unscripted in the television studios.

 

The television show generated thousands of boat sales. People who would otherwise never have considered buying a boat were inspired to make the purchase. In his own words, Chris attributed his success to the way he presented the boats in the show. “I was able to describe the technology, explain how it worked, and support the manufacturer’s brand identification and marketing.” He presented boating as the ultimate family recreation. And by the mid-eighties, the show had gained national acclaim. It was also then that he met his second wife, Monica.

 

In 1985, Chris attended the NBW Telethon, with other personalities, to raise money for children in Africa. Monica caught his attention when, as part of her modelling assignment, she jumped out of the cake in the opening scenes with TV icon Bernard King.

 

The courtship between Chris and Monica led to the couple living in a waterfront property at Paradise Point, while running the TV show from an office at Runaway Bay Marina, which was very much the heart of the boating scene on the Gold Coast. Later on, they moved to their purpose-built studio on a rural property in Willow Vale.

 

 

Producing the show

 

Monica was immediately drawn to the life on the water, and initially became the in-house model for the show, pointing out and demonstrating the boats’ features. Eventually, she increased her involvement and began to co-produce the shows, as well as manage the telemarketing of products related to boating and leisure. “It was very challenging, finding products to demonstrate each week. We were independent TV producers. We did not receive any funding from the networks, so the product manufacturers and distributors were our source of income.”

 

Back then, as it is now, producing TV shows was a very expensive business, entailing costs for cameramen, editors, helicopters, films and transfers, as well as studio time. Monica points out, “It was only possible using cost-saving ingenuity and the support of the advertisers. We had 24 minutes of content, broken down to three eight-minute segments. Chris would introduce the product, and then go to the overlay footage with a voice over, which Chris would improvise while watching the silent footage. In those early days, we filmed on 16mm film. Each reel came in 10-minute durations uncut. There was no room for mistakes or re-takes, as a 10-minute film would cost $200!” The process was highly efficient for the times.

 

Monica further explains the process they had to undergo for each episode. “Chris would introduce the relevant sections. We would then film a series of takes, boat and features, boat-to-boat, onboard shots, cutaways, and interviews. The film was sent to Brisbane for developing, and the footage would arrive back very shortly. On Fridays of each week, we would drive to Channel 9 in Brisbane to transfer the programme. Chris would sit in the sound box and do the voice-over, while the film was being transferred and the music and credits added. We walked away with the master tapes which were dispatched to the relevant TV stations around the country that were airing the show, usually the very next day, on Saturday mornings.”

 

Production became less costly when the show was filmed in digital format. Monica recalls, “It was not until the late 80’s that we introduced digital format with the show shot on BVU master tapes, saving a huge amount of money and time. We had 20 minutes of tape, and could review the content immediately.”

 

As there was no need to send the film to Brisbane, Chris built his own sound box in his studio for voice-over and music. The TV show production became totally independent from any external company and/or TV station.

 

The production team were privileged to test and discover a myriad of boat brands. The show profiled many popular fast boats of the time, including Signature boats, Stebercraft and Oceantrek.

 

The excitement would build up when they were faced with dangerous incidents. Monica goes on to explain that the most dangerous role was that of the cameraman who would have a distorted sense of distance through the viewfinder, which made balancing and sensing the proximity to danger all that more difficult. She declares that filming on the Broadwater always posed a challenge for boat testing and for filming. “The Broadwater was always very dangerous for filming because the sand was forever moving, creating lots of shallow areas, and the risk of hitting a sandbar. At that time, crossing the bar was also dangerous in a newly acquainted boat with waves appearing from out of nowhere.”

 

The team experienced very interesting events too. There are a couple incidents worth of note for Monica. She recalls one at the Whitsundays. “In the early days of Hamilton Island, we were fortunate enough to film a yacht owned by Whitsunday Rent-a-yacht and we had arranged to stay onboard and live in the harbor for a week. Just our luck, it was also the week that nearly half the resort was destroyed by a raging fire!” She adds another, “One of the most heart-thumping episodes was when we simultaneously filmed eight different inboard models of Flightcraft boats. I was very nervous, as I had to skipper one of the boats. We took precautions to avoid disasters, but nevertheless it was very dangerous work.”

 

The challenges did not deter Chris and his team from featuring more boats. In fact, their skills improved, and Chris wanted to share his knowledge to everyone. Monica says, “With so much exposure to boats and unknown waters on and off screen, Chris’s boat handling skills and knowledge were remarkable. He eventually wrote a skills and safety handbook titled, Chris Conroy’s Boating The First Step, which sold thousands of copies and is still relevant today.”

 

As boating and recreation were inseparable, the TV show eventually expanded to tourism, aviation and leisure. The show was consequently renamed, Chris Conroy’s Leisureworld. “It was a very exciting life, as the show evolved we were not restricted to just boats. There was travel to exotic places and exposure to many lifestyle and leisure ideas of the times,” says Monica.

 

 

New horizons

 

In spite of its popularity, changes in the TV networks’ policies caused the show’s eventual demise. The show aired for the last time in 2002. “Eventually, the networks amalgamated, and began to demand a fee for the airtime used, which was out of touch with production costs, and what could be generated from advertisers and sponsors. So, a lifetime of work that had attracted an almost cult-like following, just stopped,” sighs Monica.

 

After the show, Chris became more focused on his hobbies. He was always passionate about aviation. He designed and built his own ultralite, which he dubbed, “The Sparrow”. Monica remembers one incident fondly. “Once Chris wanted to test a new plane propeller that he received, so he tied the plane to a tree in the yard and started the engine. Of course, the rope snapped and the plane began to take off with Chris in tow, then the fun abruptly ended with the plane smashing into a tree and breaking the new propeller.” Such was life around Chris, Monica relates, “up in the air with various home-made aircraft, and near-death experiences – but Chris was lucky and quick-thinking in emergency situations.”

 

Chris was a risk-taker and one who never let danger stop him from pursuing his passion. One of his mates wrote of his passing: “Somehow, Conroy used to make the stories of near fatal accidents sound almost like an adventure, like climbing Mount Everest dodging falling rocks and avalanches on the way.” When learning more about Chris Conroy, one might believe that society today does not produce many men like him. (Or is it that these days, with so many modern regulations, men are not allowed to act so fearlessly.)

 

“Chris was one of a kind, a visionary of modern lifestyle television. He was also a passionate jazz singer, a father of three, an author, an educator at local schools, and a great handyman around the house,” says Monica.

 

Chris Conroy was arguably one of the longest-lasting independent TV producers in Australia. His dedication and service to the boating community has been unsurpassed. Through his exposure of the boating lifestyle and individual boat brands, Chris ensured that boating is cemented as a great Australian pastime. Over the years, his book and videos have been used by schools, prisons, amateur boat builders, and handymen throughout Australia making him an Australian boating legend.

 

By Andy Kancachian

 

Copies of Chris Conroy’s Boating The First Step are available for sale. ($29 plus postage and handling). Contact Monica Conroy on monicashccs@gmail.com.

 

IMAGE GALLERY – CHRIS CONROY

 

(Feb-Apr2017)

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